Farenthold to retire from House amid harassment claims
Washington — Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold announced Thursday that he won’t seek re-election next year, adding his name to the list of lawmakers leaving Congress amid sexual harassment allegations that have cost powerful men their jobs in politics, the arts and other industries.
In a five-minute video on his campaign’s Facebook page, Farenthold denied a former aide’s three-year-old accusations, which included that he’d subjected her to sexually suggestive comments and behavior and then fired her after she complained. But he apologized for an office atmosphere he said included “destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters he’d spoken twice to the Texan on Wednesday and suggested there were additional accusations that had yet to surface.
“Unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories, and I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress and that reflects some of the conversations we’ve had,” Ryan said.
Farenthold’s decision comes as congressional leaders have shown little desire for lawmakers facing credible harassment allegations to remain in Congress as 2018 elections roll into view.
Democrats had criticized Ryan for not forcing Farenthold out sooner. But Republicans cited a recommendation by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that the House Ethics Committee dismiss the allegations.
“There is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against complainant,” the office had said.
Last week, three lawmakers facing accusations of sexual harassment announced their resignations.
Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz., have already left Congress while Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has said he will step aside soon. Franks left under pressure from Ryan after Franks was accused of pressuring aides to serve as a surrogate mother to carry his child, with one former staffer telling The Associated Press he’d offered $5 million to do so.
Farenthold, a seven-year House veteran, had said he’d engaged in no wrongdoing when he settled the case in 2015. But after congressional sources said he’d paid the $84,000 settlement using taxpayers’ money, the House Ethics Committee said last week it would investigate him and public focus intensified, even though he said he’d reimburse the Treasury Department.
In his video, Farenthold said if he stayed in Congress, he’d have to spend months trying to vindicate himself.
“Quite simply my constituents deserve better,” he said. “They deserve a primary campaign that’s focused on the serious issues facing our country and our state and fixing a broken system. Therefore I’m announcing my decision not to run for re-election.”
The lawsuit by former Farenthold aide Lauren Greene alleged that the congressman had discussed his sexual fantasies about her and said at a staff meeting that a lobbyist had propositioned him for a threesome. It accused Farenthold of repeatedly complimenting her appearance, then joking that he hoped the comments wouldn’t be construed as sexual harassment.
Five Republicans filed to challenge Farenthold in Texas’ March 6 Republican primary even before he resigned.
Farenthold upset long-serving Democratic U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz during the tea party wave of 2010, but the district has since been redrawn to make it more reliably Republican. That included removing many areas along the Texas-Mexico border which had favored Democrats.